11 Dec 2011
“My God is the joy of my soul.” (Isa. 61:10) In the name …
Today out of all the Advent Sundays the candle is different, the candle of joy has the dark penitential purple lightened by the coming brightness of Christmas. Joy is an obvious part of this season leading up to Christ’s birth. Probably now more than at any other time of the year Jesus enters into the public arena. Songs are sung about His birth on commercial radio stations every single day at this time of the year. The Christmas season is so naturally filled with God-talk that it is even regulated in schools. People are confronted with the Christ of Christmas and He is the message that motivates the joy of the season. And probably now more than at any other time of the year, people celebrate with friends, family and coworkers. The joy is such a part of this season that even strangers are kind to one another, and more than at any other time of the year we give joyfully.
Now while all of this is greatly anticipated, and while this is the reason for the special candle of joy on the Advent wreath, we need to know that joy isn’t locked into these few weeks around Christmas, or even this one Sunday of the pink candle. Bp. Nemkovich used to make mention to the children of an acronym spelt out by the letters of joy. Joy can be found, he would tell the young ones, when we put the J for Jesus first, the O for others second, and last but not least the Y for yourselves third. If we follow that acronym of joy, if we move away from putting ourselves first and toward other priorities of faith and generosity, then joy is not only an isolated candle on the Advent wreath, joy is ours on a more consistent basis, but we have to make the effort to reorientate ourselves to J-O-Y.
Last Sunday 18 of us went to Boston to hear an inspiring performance of Handel’s Messiah, but before I tell you about that let me tell you about a couple of incidents that may help us remember to look for joy when others may miss it. After the performance, our group of 18 is trying to re-congregate on the street outside of Symphony Hall, and we’re doing this as hundreds of people are streaming out of the building at the end of the concert. As we’re standing there a city bus and a compact car have a small fender-bender right in front of us, and maybe unlike small town folk, both drivers start screaming at each other. While all of this is going on, the other folk from the concert are heading off to parking lots, cabs, subways, restaurants, but us 18 small-towners we stand transfixed at the curb watching the action. Nobody else took the time to watch. We couldn’t move. Every Bostonian in that crowd knew we were from Western Mass.
And one more example about taking notice comes to mind from last Sunday’s church outing. We parked at the Prudential Center, and to get to the performance we walked through the Christian Science Center’s courtyard. Their complex of buildings is designed with a series of colonnades and alcoves. We’re walking along and out of the corner of my eye I see some movement in one of these alcoves. I look once and then look again to make sure, there’s a photo-shoot going on. And it must have been some advertisement for a half-price-clothes-sale because the woman model only had on half of her clothes, the top was missing. As our church group is walking away, I’m yelling back to them that this is a Sunday afternoon at a church building and that this is going to be in my sermon next week. But my words would have been a lot more powerful, a lot more John the Baptist-like, if I didn’t have to go back and drag a couple of our guys away with us.
Both before and after the Messiah, we saw things that in the first story were ignored and in the second story were hidden and had to be looked for. Joy doesn’t only appear like some Christmas miracle at this one time of the year. Joy can always be a part of our lives if we don’t ignore it and if we consciously go looking for it. This past Thursday was one of the unique feast days of our church, the Feast of Divine Love. I think it is one of the most telling liturgical innovations our church ever created. This feast replaces for us the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that Mary was born free of the universal stain of original sin, the sin that is said to be a very part of our nature because we live in a fallen world. The child just born is already sinful according to this doctrine. Bp. Hodur and our church rejected this theology completely. Rather than celebrate only one person’s freedom from a universal sinfulness that is imposed upon us just by being born, we speak about the Divine Love in creation. Creation is not perfect, but it is a miracle. It is a blessing. It is a sign of God’s love for us. When scientists can be overwhelmed by the wonder of the universe, when naturalists can be moved to tears by a tree, and then Christians come along and look at the work of the Creator and see nothing but sin and failure, then we ignore and miss so much that is good and holy around us. Joy is out there, but too often we ignore it.
Joy can sometimes also be missed by not looking for it. The whole of Handel’s Messiah is glorious, but maybe its most famous selection is the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel is said to have told others that when he was writing this music he felt that it was not his own efforts, that something from God had helped him, that this music was not only his, but that it was inspired. When the Chorus is sung, people in the concert hall instinctively rise to their feet. With the soaring melodies and the powerful theme, we were literally pulled upwards. We stood. And standing there in that beautiful Symphony Hall, with hundreds of other people standing in awe of the music and hopefully of the message, you couldn’t help but be moved. Sometimes we have to go looking for joy, but it’s there, and it’s worth the effort.
On this special Sunday of Advent’s joy, let us leave this place with the equally special knowledge that joy is out there, especially because of the coming Christmas mystery of God becoming one of us in Jesus, and let us not ignore it, let us go and find it. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Fr. Randolph Calvo